New Warner Chapel in Winter Park honored

Church wins award

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  • | 8:59 a.m. July 25, 2012
Photo by: Rebecca Males - Will Graves hands a check for $2,000 to Warner Chapel Primitive Baptist Church Pastor Mitchell Dawkins.
Photo by: Rebecca Males - Will Graves hands a check for $2,000 to Warner Chapel Primitive Baptist Church Pastor Mitchell Dawkins.
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Windows were propped open to alleviate the blistering August heat. Bugs flew in and were fought back out. Hats were fanning sweaty faces and heels sunk through holes in the floor of the old wood chapel, as Rev. Mitchell Dawkins went to the pulpit.

It was not sturdy by any means, but he stood and preached to six children and five adults as though he were preaching to hundreds. As Harriet James recalls it, Pastor Dawkins preached from his heart from his very first day in 1992.

After 20 years time, the New Warner Chapel Primitive Baptist Church in West Winter Park has a new building, a congregation of about 200 members and its pastor, Dawkins, has been recognized as the latest International Knights of Alberta prize honoree.

With the humanitarian honor comes $2,000 that the New Warner Chapel received on Tuesday, July 17, to better its own parish and inspire others.

The New Warner Chapel opened its doors in 1935. Dawkins explained that like most churches in the ’30s and ’40s, it was a thriving church but, like with most things, people came and people went.

When Dawkins first arrived at New Warner Chapel there were three members; a 77-year-old, an 84-year-old and another member who was in her mid-70s.

The original wood chapel stood where New Warner Chapel’s gravel parking lot is now and was, in the words of James, dilapidated.

James, who had followed Dawkins’ ministry to New Warner Chapel, was among the five adults present on his first Sunday at New Warner Chapel on Aug. 31, 1992. “He had a vision when he walked into that church,” she said. “He saw red and white and we saw dingy and torn rugs and our heels were going through the floor.”

Dawkins’ wife, Melanie Dawkins, admitted that she couldn’t see life in the church originally when they arrived, but that the Lord allowed him to see life.

That’s when New Warner Chapel’s new congregation of 11 members hit the streets to spread the word. Dawkins’ own children would go door to door in the community to invite people to come to their church services. And Dawkins would preach and preach and people continued to come.

As the church grew, it began a large outreach program. Every Sunday for the past 20 years, the church has brought people from the Coalition for the Homeless to their site at the corner of Comstock Avenue and Capen Avenue. Members give them a free haircut, a free meal and donated clothing.

The church now has several outreach programs that help the families in their congregation to send their kids back to school each year, to promote the sanctity of marriage among their younger members and to witness to the community.

“[New Warner Chapel] has had a striking affect on the community,” James said, “a striking affect.”

Melanie explained it as, “We knew that if we helped people that they would come. We saw a need in the community, we hit the ground running and we mentored everyone that we could mentor.”

Pastor Dawkins had a vision. James recounted how he would stand at the pulpit in the old wood chapel and look out the back window of the building to the empty lot next to it and say, “I see red and white.” A few years after arriving at New Warner Chapel, a building fund was started, and in 2000, the church moved into its new building in the lot just next to the original one. The building is red and white with red stained-glass windows.

Dawkins said the church has had its up and downs but they always get through it.

In June the New Warner Chapel was broken into. Computers, a sound system, printers, copiers and other electronics were stolen.

“Like most things, it hurt,” Dawkins said. “But for some strange reason, when things happen to Christians, we get closer together when things get bad.”

James credited Dawkins for getting the church through the painful experience. His continued prayer gave him strength, which gave the members of the church strength. The stolen items were replaced, but the financial belt was tightened on New Warner Chapel.

“He kept that faith and kept that strength and he would tell us ‘this too shall pass,’” James said.

And with the passing of just a month after the break-in, Dawkins received the I.K.A Prize honor and the church received $2,000.

New Warner Chapel Primitive Baptist Church is located at 753 W. Comstock Ave. in west Winter Park. Call 407-644-3233 or visit

Melanie said she was thankful for the perfect timing of the funds after having to replace everything. New Warner Chapel will now be fully able to provide its planned outreach programs.

“When extra funds come in like this, it is an opportunity for us to give back to the community,” she said.

I.K.A. Prize spokesman Will Graves said that he felt for the entire parish and the struggles that it has been through. Graves was the man who nominated Dawkins and the New Warner Chapel for the honor.

Dawkins has high hopes on the horizon for New Warner Chapel. As he sat in his office in the back of the New Warner Chapel building on Tuesday after Graves presented the church with the $2,000 check, his face lit up with a wide smile as he talked about the fellowship hall, classrooms and school that he saw in New Warner Chapel’s future.

“From what I’m seeing you can’t talk about Jesus. You can’t talk about religion in certain places,” Pastor Dawkins said. To break down the walls between communities and to break the status quo of a community, a church must do its job to teach, he said. The goal is to have a prosperous school, so that once young people can know better, they can do better.

Unlike that hot August day 20 years ago, James can see the vision Dawkins sees.

“It’s gonna bless the neighborhood even more. This church, Warner Chapel, will blossom out. It’s gonna be beautiful,” James said.


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